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The discipline that most people refer to simply as “yoga” is actually more accurately called hatha yoga. This system was first introduced in the 15th century and evolved through many stages to
become the spiritually and physically uplifting art of today. This system is not the only form of yoga, but it is the most common one taught in both India and the West. Here’s a little of what you should know about hatha yoga practice.
Hatha yoga has its ancestry in a range of physical, philosophical and meditative practices originated by Hindu, Buddhist and Jainist practitioners in India. It has evolved over the centuries and got a significant popularity boost at the end of the 1800s. Eventually, Westerners discovered this practice, adopting it slowly until the 1960s, when yoga’s popularity took off. Since then, yoga has expanded such that almost every town has a yoga studio of its own.
Asanas are yoga postures, the physical exercises that most people think of when they hear the word “yoga.” These postures are designed to holistically keep the entire body and mind in good condition. They improve flexibility, strength and overall physical health. They can also help keep emotional and mental problems in check.
Pranayama refers to the breathing element of hatha yoga. Derived from the term “prana,” which means life energy, this part of the discipline requires careful control of breathing. Pranayama may seem relatively simple, but it’s essential to correct yoga practice, especially in the spiritual and meditative forms of the discipline. It also has physical benefits, helping to expand lung capacity and provide more oxygen for the body.
Not all yoga classes use the term “hatha” in their descriptions. Most courses that do call themselves hatha yoga include relatively slow-paced coursework. You can expect to learn basic relaxation techniques, breathing exercises and meditation. As you progress, you will learn more complex poses, still at a relatively slow pace. Hatha yoga is among the calmest and most sedate of the types of yoga practiced in the Western world.
Vinyasa yoga is a slightly more fast-paced and complex version of yoga that also appeals to some learners. Bikram yoga is a relatively modern alternative that uses very high temperatures and isn’t safe for all participants. By comparison, almost anyone can do hatha yoga.
Hatha yoga offers a range of physical and mental benefits for its practitioners. The most obvious include greater strength and flexibility, even into old age. Other less obvious benefits include reduction of some disease symptoms, better mental health, reduced stress and lower risks of heart disease and other debilitating conditions. Hatha yoga seeks to purify both the physical and spiritual body. Its benefits are documented not only from anecdotes provided by practitioners, but also by Western medical science. In many studies, hatha yoga provides better results than conventional treatment methods alone.
If you’ve never taken a hatha yoga course, now might be the time to start. Take a little time to investigate the options in your area or look online to find yoga video courses, books and other materials. Hatha yoga is a simple, healthful practice that you can perform with no equipment or special spaces. Learning about this ancient practice could be an investment that lasts you for life.